Thursday, January 17, 2019
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Marijuana: When Your Theology Is Not High Enough

This article is not meant to promote to Christians that they should begin experimenting with marijuana any more than it encourages those who abstain from alcohol to experiment with it. I am merely in favor of Christians being consistent and biblical in their thinking—not ruled by commandments and traditions of men. To make marijuana, or the recreational use of it, an evil based upon myths, biased data, or some people’s alleged experiences with it, does not present a fair argument against it. God, in his wisdom, created this plant which actually has thousands of uses besides recreational.

The Christian And Marijuana

In a recent blog this year Marijuana to the Glory of God, Portland, Oregon Pastor Jeff Lacine tackled the controversial topic of recreational Marijuana for Desiring God. He begins his article “I used to smoke marijuana every day.” He explains how the city he pastors celebrates the legality of marijuana and how there is a dispensary across the street from his church. This is, therefore, obviously not an issue he can ignore. I appreciate his transparency and his willingness to approach this topic with sympathy and without a biased perspective. While this article is not intended to target Lacine and his theology, I do want to address a few points in his article as some of his arguments are what I commonly hear.

He continues by addressing cliché responses to whether or not Christians should use marijuana. He defends against double standards as well as certain legalisms pertaining to prohibitions of alcohol. Since alcohol finds favor with him, unlike traditional Baptists, the question comes down to whether or not marijuana falls in the same category. He then breaks down the similarities and differences. For the most part, he gives a fair assessment of both substances. His point is to show how although there are many similarities, the vast amount of differences make it unhelpful to compare the two in order to come to a conclusion biblically. I believe he has a point when he says, “the bible gives us clear and direct permission for the moderate use of alcohol while never referencing other psychoactive compounds such as marijuana.” However, he does not believe the bible does not have an answer for us, which is good.

Although Lacine does not prohibit against medical usage of marijuana, it seems his conclusion is the prohibition of recreational usage. He concludes from his experience and research that Christians are unable to “experience the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God,” and that people are unable to experience life as it truly is when using marijuana. He believes the bible does not forbid every substance that affects the mind, but he believes the recreational use of marijuana violates the biblical standards of sobriety. He says it puts infrequent users into a “fog,” and larger amounts can potentially cause paranoia. What this “fog” exactly is, is not made clear. However, I think the experience he is referencing is not a great difference from feeling a “buzz” when drinking alcohol. That is not to say the feelings are different, however. The argument he is supposed to be making is based on sobriety. Unfortunately, much of the research that has been done on the effects of marijuana has been biased or incomplete. Just as many people have different experiences with alcohol; the experiences that people have with marijuana vary as well. Many times paranoia is not a result of the usage of marijuana but is due to different circumstances in which a person finds themselves, including fear of getting in trouble with the law or parents. Some people are paranoid simply because they do not know what effects to expect from marijuana, so they may be expecting the worse. For many, the effects are an enhancement of their senses and not a dulling effect.

Lacine states, “Unlike alcohol, regular cannabis use is strongly correlated with mental health disorders such as schizoaffective disorder. While heavy drinking (alcohol abuse) has also been linked to mental health disorders, moderate drinking has not.” But according to whom? Also, he compares “regular” usage of cannabis to “moderate” usage of drinking. If the prohibition is based on this, then we must also ban the usage of alcohol. That is not a fair comparison. While this is anecdotal evidence, I can attest that while growing up in the inner city, 90 percent of the people I knew used cannabis, and none of them had or have mental health disorders. Even if the people I knew who seemed a bit mentally off, seemed to be that way already before their experience with marijuana. This is not to say that marijuana has no effect on the brain at all; however, to use this argument as the standard of it being sinful or not is a stretch.

The Effects And The Experiences

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, the strongest evidence in the studies of the link between marijuana usage and psychiatric disorders appeared in people with a “preexisting genetic or other vulnerability.” When they adjusted for various factors, they found no association between marijuana use and these disorders. In NIDA's article, recent research has found that people who use marijuana and carry a specific variant of the AKT1 gene, which codes for an enzyme that affects dopamine signaling in the striatum, are at increased risk of developing psychosis. The striatum is an area of the brain that becomes activated and flooded with dopamine when certain stimuli are present. One study found that the risk of psychosis among those with this variant was seven times higher for those who used marijuana daily compared with those who used it infrequently or used none at all.

Whether adolescent marijuana use can contribute to developing psychosis later in adulthood appears to depend on whether a person already has a genetically based vulnerability to the disorder. The AKT1 gene governs an enzyme that affects brain signaling involving the neurotransmitter dopamine. Altered dopamine signaling is known to be involved in schizophrenia. AKT1 can take one of three forms in a specific region of the gene implicated in susceptibility to schizophrenia: T/T, C/T, and C/C. Those who use marijuana daily (green bars) with the C/C variant have a seven times higher risk of developing psychosis than those who use it infrequently or use none at all. The risk for psychosis among those with the T/T variant was unaffected by whether they used marijuana.  Source: Di Forti et al. Biol Psychiatry. 2012.

So basically, there is no real evidence that proves that marijuana is the actual culprit of mental health disorders; rather it can increase disorders that are already present just like alcohol or any other chemical substance, including many simple foods. There are many more studies that connect the usage of alcohol to mental disorders, and even these studies prove that there are many variables to consider. What we do know is that drinking clearly has an effect on the brain. Alcohol has pleasurable effects, and for some, negative emotional effects. Alcohol is a depressant, so it slows the function of the nervous system. This has massive effects on the body, including emotions, perception, overall health, and our senses. Alcohol has been strongly associated with depression, yet clearly, this does not occur for many who enjoy it on a regular basis. While people advocate against marijuana due to the alleged destruction of brain cells or matter, experts have also estimated that thousands of brain cells die from a single drink of alcohol. Whether that is true or not, Christians need to be consistent. We know that too much drinking can influence our actions, judgment, and balance, which is not sobriety. So, if one is “high” on marijuana and it is affecting his judgment, then obviously this is against sobriety as well. So, although there are many differences between alcohol and marijuana, as Lacine noted, it is precisely in the similarities where the greatest criticism falls against marijuana. We clearly see many of the arguments against marijuana can indeed be used against alcohol at an even greater level. Yet most people today only hold those criticisms against marijuana and give alcohol a pass.

Lacine states, “Unlike alcohol, cannabis has been a cultural symbol of rebellion for a large part of the last century.” Well, I guess it depends on whom you ask. There are many Baptist churches that would consider alcohol as a cultural symbol of rebellion, while many other Christians consider it a symbol of celebration. During the era of prohibition, and well afterward, many people openly condemned alcohol in public as just that: rebellion, evil, and destructive to the mind, families, and society. For about 13 years there was a nationwide ban on alcoholic beverages in our country, and the stigma of rebellion still remains in many people’s minds.

Lacine also argues, “Unlike alcohol, cannabis was not used by Jesus in his Last Supper, which is to be regularly commemorated by the church (Mark 14:23–25).” But even he knows some of his fellow Baptist brothers still prohibit alcohol at the Lords table, especially after 1869 when Methodist Thomas Welch made provision for those in the temperance movement by creating grape juice. 

However, our consciences should not be ruled by stigma or tradition, and certainly not by double standards, but by the Word of God. We also must consider that when something is made illegal in a country, and people still participate in using it, of course, it seems like rebellion. Although we are to submit to the governing authorities, the government or “we the people” do not get to decide what is evil and what is good. God declares what is good and evil, and all that he has made is very good, and nothing is to be rejected but received with thanksgiving (Gen 1:31, 1 Tim 4:4–5). Unfortunately, just as false teachers tend to want to act as the Holy Spirit over people’s consciences, our government wants to babysit us. Just as the gods of America put limitations on our usage of rainwater, they tell us what plants we are allowed to use and how to use them. Everything God created has an intended purpose, and everything he created can be used in a perverted manner. However, the recreational use of marijuana is considered perverted and wrong. Why? As we see, what arguments come against it are all weak or fail, and we are left with only social stigma. People have a misconception of the recreational use of marijuana based on what they see in movies and TV. Although Lacine says he used to smoke marijuana, he also adds the following:

There is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote. Put another way, marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting. Regular marijuana use causes disengagement, dulling individuals into a long-term, slow, and subtle numbness. If you ask almost anyone who has formerly used cannabis on a regular basis, he will speak about this phenomena. To confirm this testimony, studies have shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome.

Maybe this was his own experience. This was never my experience, or anyone else’s I’ve known. Maybe his claim is that marijuana made him lazy. However, his claim that marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting and that causes disengagement is not always true. Some of the most active and engaged people in our culture smoke marijuana, including 75–80% of football players in the NFL. I have one friend who is immersed in a culture of cannabis in California. The stigmas are much more rare in his state. He described being around people who smoked marijuana all the time, including school teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. In Northern California, all sorts of people have special gardens in their backyards; this does not allow him to have the stigma. He also explained how his father had been a very productive citizen his entire life on into his 70s, yet had smoked marijuana since he was a teenager. He was a very engaged father, always held a job, and was a very active member of society. His sister is a single mother of three who smokes marijuana every day, while all of her children are in all sorts of after school activities which she, too, stays involved in. Her house is kept clean, and she works all week. He says, “I mean you wouldn’t even know she smoked unless she told you.”  He himself works and has children, smokes marijuana regularly, attends college and passes all of his classes with flying colors, exercises daily, is one of the most hygiene-sensitive people I know, one of the most intelligent people I know, extremely creative, and wakes up at 5:00 AM every morning without any obligation to do so.

I have never talked to this guy where he has not been with a sound mind or was without self-control. When I smoked, I personally have never experienced the effects which many claim to be so destructive, and both he and I smoked some of the most potent marijuana in the country.

We also must understand that there are different strains of cannabis. While many people associate smoking marijuana with laziness, the Indica strain helps you relax or sleep, while the Sativa actually gives you energy. I still would not associate the effects of either with laziness. If we did, then we would also have to associate magnesium supplements and sleeping pills with laziness as well. People who smoke weed and are lazy are just lazy people who should not blame it on the herb but blame it on their own hearts. My friend also made a good point: if smoking marijuana makes you disengaged or out of touch with reality, then how is it that we have such great art that was created by artists such as Bob Marley and Tupac. These artists (and many like them) were very in touch with reality, unfortunately somewhat more than most pastors, even though they did not have the words of eternal life. If you listen to their music, you can clearly see marijuana did not make them ignorant or disengaged.

The World Is Informing And Defining The Issue

At the Shepherd’s Conference 2014, a panel discussion addressed the question of marijuana. “Is it a sin for a Christian to smoke pot?” Todd Friel, who hosted the panel, asked a straight yes or no answer from the panelists, Phil Johnson, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, Tom Pennington, Steve Lawson, and John MacArthur. He starts off by mentioning “Historically if a teenager would approach the Pastor or the Youth Pastor and ask if marijuana is a sin, we could simply respond its illegal so don’t do it.” (It is not surprising why “millennials” are leaving the church, when they for years have constantly received cop-out answers like this.) But this rationale is now gone in many places, and Todd wants to answer the more difficult question. Is it a sin or not?

Every one of these influential Pastors said yes, with MacArthur giving a “yes, absolutely.”

Friel then makes them give a theological case for their answer. MacArthur goes on to explain with his expertise that the purpose of marijuana is to have your mind altered. He claims that you can drink wine and not have your mind altered, but you cannot smoke marijuana without having your mind altered. He speaks of the sole purpose being “to diminish your responsibility, to diminish your accountability, to diminish you at every level of thinking.” He claims it “releases your self-control, which is always a sin.” Al Mohler follows up by co-signing. Friel gives the follow-up question concerning medical marijuana. Al Mohler responds with a statist view: as long as it is regulated and approved by the American Medical Association, then he is for it. I understand you have to be careful where you are purchasing anything from, but Mohler is asking us to put our trust solely in a government or major corporate regulatory establishments. The Pharmaceutical industry would love to hear Mohler’s statement to Christians, as they obviously do not want to lose any money to competitors in a truly free market.

I understand I may get kicked out of the synagogue for disagreeing with all of these men, but the theology of too many American churches and pulpits on practical issues seems to be more informed by Hollywood and the newspaper than by God’s revelation to us. Moreover, where God’s word is silent, modern day Pharisees never cease to create rules and regulations to oppress the consciences of God’s people and keep tight controls over the flock.

Teaching The Nations

Using marijuana for recreational use is not for everyone, obviously. However, those who choose to use it properly, in moderation, should not be condemned at as those who lack holiness, any more than those who enjoy a daily glass of wine with their meal. The church needs to be cautious of course in all things, yet should not be prudish or pharisaical towards cannabis. It should rather be a leader in teaching the nations what sobriety and moderation look like. Honestly, this article just scratches the surface in hopes of having a conversation—a fair conversation.

Author

Trevaris J. Tutt

Trevaris J. Tutt is the Pastor/Church Planter of Truth and Grace Bible Church in the inner city of Jacksonville, Florida. He is married with four children with one on the way: two boys and two girls, and the one on the way is a girl. He is an entrepreneur, writer, and is currently working on writing books and documentaries to educate and edify the body of Christ on doctrine, apologetics, history, and biblical worldview.